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Category: Ancient History

‘This little piggy went to market’

Another short note on hogs and whores in the eastern desert praesidia: Philokles’ pigs Time to end the year with a bang! A couple of weeks ago, I drew your attention to Philokles, merchant of quality vegetables and first rate whores. Here’s a little follow-up on that story today: Philokles’ pigs. As you may have read, and no doubt by now have already forgotten, most of the letters belonging to the Philokles dossier (to use a fancy French word, because we Belgians are, constitutionally, a trilingual country) deal with Schmaus (it would be rude to ignore our German-tongued compatriots now). Cabbages were something they couldn’t get enough of in the eastern desert, but appels, onions, asparagus, salt, pig meat and rabbit dung were also gladly provided. The fruit and vegetables were grown locally, probably in Phoinikon or Persou, where there was enough irrigation for this purpose. Raising pigs in the desert was trickier though: the climate is much too warm and dry, and it would require a LOT of water. Some remains of a pigsty have been found, indicating that a limited number was brought to the camps, probably for ritual purposes. In general though, cured meat was imported from the Nile valley (yup, beef jerky goes that far back). Boar of the piglets So when the unpublished potsherd K193 (yes, we use code for our texts in papyrology to mislead the enemy) mentions a ‘boar of the piglets’, papyrological eyebrows are raised, and as professor Cuvigny remarks: this passage is…

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Harlots of the desert

Philokles: introduction Today we have the pleasure to present you: Philokles! Philokles lived on the outskirts of Egyptian society, in the dull eastern desert between the Nile valley and the Red Sea that was dotted with Roman army camps (praesidia). These camps were situated along the desert tracks from Koptos to Myos Hormos (not far from Urghada) and to Berenike in the south. The camps had to protect the caravans and were manned with a handful of soldiers, who often stayed in the desert for months, bored to death, and sometimes threatened by Bedouins. Philokles wasn’t a soldier himself, so why on earth would you want to spend your days there?! Life is short, and was even shorter still 2,000 years ago. But our dear Philokles could smell opportunities hundreds of sandy miles away. For he was a businessman, and if business takes you east, you suit up, strap yourself on that donkey or camel and go with the flow, he said (ok, maybe he didn’t…). He wasn’t one of those Big Shot dealers who hauled in pepper and other spices from India or shipped out fine wines from Syria and even Italy to the Far East though. No, Philokles found his niche in a more modest market: basic food, such as wheat and wine, was provided by the army, but luxuries such as meat and vegetables had to be bought by the soldiers themselves. Upon hearing this, the drachme signs no doubt started flickering in Philokles’ eyes. Philokles is known…

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Open CFP: Digital Approaches and the Ancient World

More publicity! *Digital Approaches and the Ancient World* A themed issue of the _Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies_ Editors: Gabriel Bodard (University of London) gabriel dot bodard at Yanne Broux (KU Leuven) yanne dot broux at Ségolène Tarte (University of Oxford) segolene dot tarte at Call for papers: We invite colleagues all around the world and at all stages of their careers to submit papers on the topic of “Digital Approaches and the Ancient World” to a themed issue of the Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. The topic is to be construed as widely as possible, to include not only the history, archaeology, language, literature and thought of the ancient and late antique Mediterranean world, but also of antiquity more widely, potentially including, for example, South and East Asian, Sub-Saharan African or Pre-Columbian American history. Digital approaches may also vary widely, to include methodologies from the digital humanities and information studies, quantitative methods from the hard sciences, or other innovative and transdisciplinary themes. Papers will be fully peer reviewed and selected for inclusion based not only on their research quality and significance, but especially on their ability to engage profoundly both with classics/history academic readers, and scholars from digital or informatic disciplines. We are keen to see papers that clearly lay out their disciplinary and interdisciplinary methodological approaches, and present and interpret the full range of scholarly and practical outcomes of their research. We encourage the use of and direct reference to open…

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Three-mode networks for Elephantine letters

Last summer, the Almighty Trismegistos Overlord dumped a collection of demotic letters from Elephantine on my desk.   The above sentence is most likely highly confusing in a myriad of ways. a) Demotic letters? I guess everyone knows hieroglyphs, those funny birds and squatting figures found on every possible piece of rock and stone in Egypt. Since not everyone was a gifted smokey-eyed, linnen-wrapped Michelangelo though, a more fluently-written variant of this script soon emerged, called hieratic. Demotic is supposedly an even more cursively evolved, Late and Graeco-Roman variant. I don’t buy it. Those people simply had horrible handwriting. My Auto-correct keeps on insisting that this should be ‘demonic’ by the way. I nod vigorously in agreement each time.  b) Elephantine? A town in Upper Egypt, just downstream of the first Nile cataract. No, there are no elephants there. c) Upper Egypt – first Nile cataract? Those of you with no / a limited / a normal amount of geographical sense probably have no clue what the catch is here. So let me elaborate: the first cataract is in Nubia, a charming little region located in the Republic of Sudan, ergo: south of Egypt. But then, shouldn’t Upper be, like, up north? No! Why make things simple, if they can also be confusing and disorientating? Actually, there’s a logic behind this: since the Nile flows from south to north, Upper Egypt is the upstream part, and Lower Egypt the downstream part. I’d have voted for Downer Egypt to make more sense, but…

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